Monthly Archives: December 2012

5 myths put forward by supporters of fox hunting

I think I’ve heard most of the arguments put forward by the advocates of bloodsports and none of them stand up to scrutiny. Here are some of my favourites.

  1. Hunting foxes with a pack of hounds is an efficient method of pest control. This is perhaps the least convincing of the hunt lobby’s arguments because the numbers say otherwise. There will be any number of people on horseback, supported by dozens of hounds, all of which are chasing a single fox. Surely a single marksman with a rifle is a more efficient way to deal with the alleged problem. The fox hunters don’t seem to think so. The element of pest control is a convenient excuse that masks the true cost of the hunt and the cruelty exhibited towards the fox, which is torn to pieces by the pack of hounds. I would argue that the pest control defence has only been introduced to deflect attention away from the over-riding blood lust of the participants.
  2. People of all social backgrounds take part in hunting. To this point I would ask, “How many working class people can afford to own, stable and feed a horse and buy the clothing to participate in a hunt”? None, I would argue. The role of the working class in the hunts is limited to the support activities (blacksmithing, mucking out and so on). Traditional working class bloodsports like cock-fighting and badger-baiting were outlawed long ago. Fox hunting was allowed to continue until relatively recently.
  3. Fox hunting is an integral part of rural life. But then so are a great many other things like having to put up with poor public transport and isolation. Such things are of little concern to the Countryside Alliance, whose main objective is to campaign for a repeal of the Hunting with Dogs Act.
  4. Fox hunting is popular in the countryside. Urban dwellers don’t understand the ways of the country. Many people who live in the towns and cities used to live in the country and we understand the countryside better than you think. I grew up in the country and I saw hunting as cruel and barbaric and joined the Hunt Sabs as soon as I could.  In the past, many hunts have trespassed onto land that does not belong to them. Those farmers on whose land the hunts have trespassed do not find fox hunting endearing in any way shape or form.
  5. The ban on fox hunting is an example of the tyranny of the majority being imposed on the minority. The paedophile would doubtless make the same argument. The majority of us find child sexual abuse abhorrent. That isn’t “tyranny”, that’s a concern for the welfare of children. Indeed many farmers don’t see foxes as pests but as allies that, for example, keep rabbit numbers in check.

Here’s Julian Cope’s Reynard the Fox

Leave a comment

Filed under Animal rights, Society & culture

Dear Andrew Mitchell, this is what the cops are like. Welcome to the real world

So, Andrew Mitchell, you’ve finally learned what many of us knew all along: the police fit people up. Gone are the days of Dixon of Dock Green with his ready smile and “Evening all” catchphrase. But then, we all knew that Dixon was a fabrication, much like the cop’s “hard” evidence. Remember Derek Bentley on the roof of that warehouse in Croydon? You probably don’t. He said, “Let him have it, Chris” to Chris Craig but the police, who are also ever-so-good at grammar, told the court that Bentley had told Craig to shoot PC Miles. Craig fired the gun at Miles and he was killed. Bentley, who didn’t fire the pistol, was hanged for murder. Craig, who was a minor at the time, was not hanged. They called it “joint enterprise”.

You see, Andrew, for years those of us who come from working class backgrounds know what the police are like. The cop clipping a child “around the ear” was always more likely to be something far more brutal. They make up evidence. They lie in court. They destroy evidence linking them to any misdeeds. They don’t work for me and now you realize that they don’t work for you either. They look after themselves.

Derek Bentley was pardoned in 1993 after a 45 year long campaign, which included a film (Let Him Have It) and a song by Elvis Costello in 1989. Here’s the song. Sorry I couldn’t resist.

Andrew, you’re one lucky fella.  You’re not in the same boat as Bentley and the others who were executed or languished in prison on trumped up charges.

1 Comment

Filed under News/Current Affairs

Will anything ever be done about the blacklisting of trade unionists?

Whenever I hear someone tell me that we live in a “free country”, I laugh and I laugh long, loud and hard. Britain is a country in which people are spied on for being environmental activists and blacklisted if they are members of trade unions. The democratic process is corrupted by right-wing politicians who abolish county councils because they oppose government policy and they gerrymander constituency boundaries to stay in power. Those who speak out about abuses in high places are shut down or marginalized.

This is a country in which you cannot say what you like, even though you know it to be true, because some fat bastard with a fat wallet is going to threaten you with a libel/slander suit. This is a country where members of trade unions are blacklisted and denied employment opportunities because their union activity.

We may not live in what could be officially described as a police state but it’s pretty damned close. The roles that would be carried out by the official repressive apparatuses of the state are carried out, perversely enough, by private institutions like the defunct Economic League, which was succeeded by the Consulting Association. One could say that the Economic League, which was formed in the 1920s, never went away and simply changed its name. It also enjoyed close ties to the Conservative party. Indeed, Ian Kerr, a private investigator who had been hired by the league, worked for both groups. Kerr ran a illegal secret database of 3,200 workers in breach of privacy laws. Kerr died last week, Solfed reports,

His £50,000 a year salary + bonus + BUPA + Mercedes company car lifestyle, funded by the major UK construction firms including Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Carillion, Kier, BAM, AMEC and AMEY came to a halt tells us that Kerr

had been set to be a key witness on behalf of more than 80 former workers who are preparing to sue Sir Robert McAlpine in the High Court as part of a major compensation claim mounted by the Blacklist Support Group.

Sir Robert McAlpine, along with Balfour Beatty and Skanska, operated a blacklist for the 2012 Olympics.

Seumas Milne, writing in The Guardian last week says:

It’s now clear that workers across Britain have been systematically and illegally forced into unemployment for trade union activity – often on publicly funded projects and in collusion with the police and security services – by some of the country’s biggest companies, using secret lists drawn up by corporate spying agencies.

Liberty has equated blacklisting with phone hacking, insisting that the “consequences for our democracy are just as grave”. Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College London, calls it the “worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” in Britain in half a century.

But would there be an inquiry? Not on Lord Snooty’s watch.

But whereas David Cameron ordered a public inquiry into hacking, he rejected any investigation of blacklisting out of hand. And while a mainly anti-union media has largely ignored the scandal, all the signs are that it’s continuing right now, in flagship public projects such as the £15bn Crossrail network across the south-east.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that blacklisting is a recent phenomenon because it’s been taking place for the better part of 90 years. Indeed we can go back to 19th century classical liberal Britain, where early trade unionists were rounded up on trumped up charges and transported to Australia.

The role of the so-called radical Right should not be underestimated. The forerunner of The Freedom Association also had a close relationship with the league.

In the early 1970s there was an expansion and consolidation of the Radical Right. Amongst its new members was the Freedom Association, which had grown out of the “Private Army” movement associated with the conspiracies of the early seventies. Originally it seems to have been a demobilised version of Major General Walter Walker’s army – “Unison”. NAFF’s subsequent activities have been well documented; it specialises in maverick private prosecutions, and encouraging and funding legal actions.

The “maverick private prosecutions” included taking Greenpeace and the Labour Party to court in an attempt to eliminate them.

For the chinless right libertarians, this equates to “freedom”. It’s the freedom to make a profit at great human cost. It’s the freedom to to restrict the freedom of others to work or to seek work.


Hughes, M (1994), Spies at Work.
Available at: Accessed 15/12/12


Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Think Tanks

Spree-killings: mythology, hyper-masculinity and gun culture

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, a figure that has been mythologized to create an image of American hyper-masculinity

To the best of my knowledge there have been no female spree-killers in the inglorious history of such things. You will know the by now familiar story of the lone gunman or pair of gunmen – in the case of Columbine – who, armed with freely available automatic weapons, visited death upon people going about their lives, be it in a school,a university campus or a shopping mall. I am not trying to denigrate the victims of the latest horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, but the spree-killing seems to be, more or less, an American feature. Yes, such killings have happened in other countries but in the United States, it is an all too frequent occurrence.

When spree-killings have taken place – with the assailant often dead from a self-inflicted wound – the attention of the media and others tends to focus on the mental state of the murderer. That’s only to be expected. Why did the killer do this? Was there any event in their past that set off a chain of events that led to this point? There will be other such questions.

There will be questions, too, about the availability of guns, the largely misinterpreted Second Amendment and the rest of it, but for me, the gun is significantly iconic, if not in its highly mythologized role in the forging of a nation and in the capitalistic sense of defending one’s property, but also for its role in the construction of a hyper-masculine national identity that has become part of the national mythology but also an ideal of American masculinity.All of us are aware of the tales of derring-do about such figures as David “Davy” Crockett – who allegedly killed a “bar (bear) when he was only 3 years old”  – Jim Bowie (of knife fame) and Daniel Boone. Others, like the unfortunate but completely sociopathic, George Armstrong Custer, had their stories called into question relatively recently. The hapless Custer was famous for his tragi-comic “Last Stand” , which was mythologized out of all proportion by hagiographers, who swept aside Custer’s recklessness, vainglory and egomania to paint a story of “hero wronged”. These stories been woven into the massive tapestry of lies and half-truths that is America’s national narrative that’s a massive as The Bayeux  Tapestry.

Women, on the other hand, have been consigned to the margins of historical discourse. Betsy Ross may have created the Stars and Stripes but she was not given the vote. In fact, there is some doubt as to whether she created the flag at all. Other women, who featured in the early history of the United States are the first ladies, who are, for the most part, anonymous, save for a few of them.  Women like Carrie Nation and Susan B Anthony were not seen as women fighting for political rights, but as troublemakers and harpies. The macho early historians did their best to write women out of the historical narrative and they almost succeeded.

Yes, the gun can kill people and yes, I’ve heard the argument that “people kill people, guns don’t kill people”, which misses the wider cultural point altogether as well as the essential role of human agency in the firing of a weapon. But the national myths of a pioneering spirit, backed by the notion of rugged individualism has been embodied in the historically disconnected images of Boone, Bowie and Crockett and has been allowed to seep into the nation’s collective unconscious unchecked and unquestioned. It is this machismo that takes pride of place over anything else.

Guns are a distinctly male thing. Yes, women own guns and are members of gun clubs but there is a phallic element to the gun that appeals to the male. After all, a gun fires a projectile with the squeeze of a trigger. You can fire a gun again and again and not feel exhausted afterwards as one would if one had ejaculated in the same way. Thus, the lack of control exhibited by the premature ejaculator can be exchanged for the perfect control of firing a gun. Indeed, one can substitute one’s impotence with the reliable potency of a high calibre rifle. Just an idea.

These men are alienated from their societies, their families, their histories and their own bodies. Wilhelm Reich wrote:

The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture, is typified by characterological armoring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This characterological armoring is the basis of isolation, indigence, craving for authority, fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness, as well as pathological tolerance. Man has alienated himself from, and has grown hostile toward, life.

My bold. The young male who feels a sense of powerlessness  about himself is likely to have been alienated from society in one or more ways. This is not helped by the highly-mediated images of the ideal male that pour from our television screens and from the pages of magazines. When redundancy strikes and there is no prospect of work, the only way out for some men is to kill themselves.  Indeed, men are more likely to commit suicide than women. It is possible that the men in question may have a feeling of emasculation as well as alienation. Male suicides are at their highest during economically difficult times. We may congratulate ourselves for our technological achievements, but this has come at great cost to society. In so-called primitive cultures, there is a rite of passage for young people of both sexes, this does not happen in the industrialized nations. Is there a reason for this?

Instead, many American children, particularly boys, are taught how to handle a gun from an early age – which, together with hazing, passes for a rite of passage.  To reinforce this, there are images of guns everywhere and most Hollywood films seem to feature them.  The gun, the phallic symbol of American culture, is at once a venerated icon of freedom and a weapon of mass destruction.

The Columbine killers were said to have been influenced by The Matrix and even though there is a female lead in the character of Trinity, she is a masculinized female, who totes guns and beats up men… well, representations of men. It’s almost as if, men cannot deal with real women and have to transform them into ersatz men.

I am not making excuses for Adam Lanza or any of the other spree-killers but I think that the highly masculinized culture of the United States is, at least, partly to blame for the recurrence of this kind of tragedy.

The fact that Lanza killed children and, more tellingly, women (including his mother) makes this all the more horrific. But it also tells us something else: a society that prizes the masculine over the feminine is a very ill society.  Sadly, this is the case with the majority of nations, which are run along patriarchal lines. But it’s worse in the United States (and quite possibly Australia) where machismo is an essential part of the nation’s culture. What we really need is a balance between male and female.

Finally, the response of the gun lobby has been predictable but characteristically lacking in critical thinking. The NRA and others argue that if the children and teachers been armed, this would never have happened. That is plainly absurd: it is a stage on the road to another arms war. It also sends a message that might is right and violence can always be met with violence.


Reich, W. (1973).  The Function of the Orgasm. London: Souvenir Press

Leave a comment

Filed under 19th century, History, History & Memory, United States

The state-sponsored murder of Pat Finucane: the British state plays semantics

Pat Finucane: murdered by proxies of the British security apparatus

Pat Finucane: murdered by proxies of the British security apparatus

Pat Finucane was a Belfast civil rights lawyer who successfully challenged Britain’s human rights abuses in Northern Ireland. This is something that rankled with the state and Loyalist supporters. In 1989, Finucane was killed by UDA gunmen, one of whom was informer Ken Barrett, with the collusion of the British security services. The gunmen sprayed the Finucane’s home as the family were finishing their dinner. Finucane was killed by 14 bullets, his wife was also wounded in the attack.

Earlier this week, Sir Desmond de Silva’s report into Finucane’s murder concluded that the British state colluded with the killing but was not involved in a conspiracy. I would truly like to believe that there was no conspiracy but something tells me that would be naïve, given the dirty nature of the conflict and the cycle of violence that accompanied it. We know about the Loyalist death squads and we also know that the British security services (along with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment) passed information onto these Loyalists. If that isn’t a conspiracy, then I’m the Lyin’ King.

The Loyalist paramilitaries: the UDA, the UFF, the UVF, the Red Hand Commando and others acted as an unofficial repressive state apparatus carrying out murders on behalf of the British state. Loyalist violence was only ever condemned through clenched teeth by the authorities.

On Wednesday, David Cameron offered a mealy-mouthed apology for Finucane’s murder but for the family and those who seek justice, it was not enough. Loyalist death squads were given carte blanche by the British authorities to carry out targeted murders. Beatrix Campbell writing in The Guardian says,

Those running the RUC, the army, the Northern Ireland Office and the Joint Intelligence Committee – later to become a household name during the Iraq war debacle – regarded the loyalists as a vital but disreputable rabble. So the army’s Force Research Unit enlisted an ex-soldier, Brian Nelson, to streamline the UDA’s killing machine. De Silva describes Nelson as “to all intents and purposes a direct state employee” – a remarkable admission. MI5 used him to orchestrate arms shipments from South Africa to distribute among loyalists. The state, it seems, took control of re-tooling the paramilitaries.

Not a conspiracy? Please, pull the other one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Northern Ireland

What’s the deal with fracking?

I was listening to the Today programme and they were discussing fracking and how Gid had lifted the moratorium on explorations for shale gas.

Some see fracking as the answer to our energy needs and point to the United States where it has resulted in cut price gas. But the US is possibly one of the worst examples to use as a defence, because of the reported cases of water pollution. In this country, fracking has caused 2 minor earthquakes in the Blackpool area.

The likes of Delingpole love the idea of fracking but then, he gets moist at the thought of left-wing activists being tortured to death by goons who can barely read and write. Such is the short-sighted nature of the frackers that they would put the health of millions of people at risk for a short-term, possibly negligible gain.

Defenders of the current capitalist system love to tell us how it is the only system that inspires innovation and rewards risks. I say that’s bullshit: the current capitalist system ignores the health and well-being of the people by its relentless pursuit of profit at all costs. Innovation can happen without this form of capitalism. Then there’s the capitalist’s short-sightedness that blinds them to the long term consequences of their actions. They prefer to make money quickly and let someone else clean up the mess, while denying they had anything to do with whatever catastrophe they’ve caused. That’s because the love of money means you never have to say you’re sorry.

Here’s an animation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media, propaganda

Greenhalgh accused of “inappropriate behaviour”

Stephen Greenhalgh’s time at City Hall has been marked by controversy since he took the role of Deputy Mayor for Policing in May, now he’s been accused of inappropriate behaviour.

The incident occurred in a lift when Greenhalgh allegedly patted a woman’s bottom. First he denied it, then he admitted to it but then claimed the Ernest Saunders defence of “I don’t remember”.

If found guilty, Greenhalgh’s days at City Hall could be numbered, which means that he’ll end up back here in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Adam Bienkov has more here.

Once again, Bozza’s judgement has been called into question. At the beginning of his first term, he lost 2 Deputy mayors in quick succession. it looks like another one is for the chop.

Leave a comment

Filed under City Hall, London

Census 2011: can you feel the hate (and hear the lies)?

Douglas Murray: bigot and warmonger who does a nice line in Zionist apologia.

Douglas Murray: bigot and warmonger who does a nice line in Zionist apologia.

The results of the last census have been released and give the racists something to complain about. Religion is on the wane, immigration from Eastern Europe and the Indian subcontinent has increased and the numbers of people who identify as mixed race is on the rise.

I expected to see (Fr)Ed West complaining about the numbers of mixed race people. But he’s been quiet. Last night, the ever-hysterical Douglas Murray was part of a panel on last night’s Newsnight and, as you’d expect, he wasn’t pleased. This morning in the Daily Heil, he writes,

The 2011 census shows that white British people are now a minority in the capital city, London, the first time this has happened in any major region in Britain.

This sets the tone for the rest of the article.

For the first time, too, less than 90 per cent of the country is white, while the population is increasing in size at an unprecedented rate as a result of immigration.

Of course, it is vital to point out, as those of us critical of the immigration policies of successive governments always have done, that immigration is not in itself a bad thing. On the contrary, if conducted in a controlled manner, immigration brings huge benefits to the life of a country.

Yeah, but it’s those damned coloureds, Doug, they’re taking over! Here’s some more,

For countries to cohere and for people to feel any common bond or purpose, it is vital to have common points of cultural and historical reference.

This is revealing: he talks here about a “common bond or purpose”. The reason why nation-states exist is to fight wars; these are wars that Murray wouldn’t fight personally, though I am sure he would be more than happy to see working class kids go off to kill people with different religions and darker skin in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”. That’s the kind of guy he is.

The truth is that immigration has happened at such a rate that, far from augmenting and enhancing our national life as it did in days gone by, it has completely changed it.

This is pure sophistry: immigrants have not always been welcomed in Britain nor have their contributions always been recognized. Murray is talking about a particular kind of immigrant and not one that has dark skin or speaks in an Eastern European accent either.

You may — like so many of our politicians — feel joy that this change has been brought about. Or you may — as some of us do — feel sadness about it. Sadness that we were never asked about this change. Sadness that our concerns were never listened to.

And sadness at the realisation that it is now probably too late to do anything to prevent Britain from becoming so very different a country.

Murray is an odd creature: paranoid and shrill, he couches his deep-seated prejudices in the language of social concern. He talks about “cohesion” but only in the context of forcing an constructed culture onto others. It should come as no surprise that Murray is now involved with the Heritage Foundation, an American right-wing think-tank and is the Associate Director of the warmongering Henry Jackson Society.

The Telegraph leader column, like the party it supports, blames the last Labour government for “unchecked immigration”.

Labour’s decade of virtually unchecked immigration has seen the number of foreign-born residents rise by nearly three million – to 7.5 million – since the 2001 census. It has left this country less white, more ethnically diverse and less Christian. More than one million households do not use English as a first language. The white British make up 80 per cent of the population of England and Wales and in London are now in a minority. There are a million Muslims living here, while the number of self-professed Christians has fallen by four million. All the while, social structures are changing rapidly. For the first time, fewer than half of households contain a married couple.

This would have happened with or without a Labour government. Again, we see Murray’s paranoia vis a vis religion, which is on the wane. But it’s not the decline in religious observance that upsets the right, it’s the kind of religion that appears to be replacing Christianity that irks them.

The Sun repeats Murray’s line about immigration but the article is confused. First it says,

Immigration can be a sign of a dynamic society. The South East in particular would grind to a halt without industrious foreign workers.

Yeah? So what’s the problem?  As if I couldn’t guess…

Controlled immigration of talented newcomers is welcome, and the Olympics showcased the friendly and positive side of the new-look Britain.

Get to the point!

But the sheer scale of the influx, and its pace, raise serious questions.

Labour, who recklessly threw open our doors to the world, never asked Britain if it wanted such a level of immigration.

We were never asked if we wanted our public services privatized and here is The Scum complaining the British people were “not asked” if they wanted these levels of immigration. Talk about priorities!

Nor did it consider how public services such as housing, hospitals and schools would cope. They can’t.

And unlimited cheap foreign labour is frustrating the Government’s attempts to make work pay better than benefits.

What nonsense. Workers in this country, whether they be native or foreign born have never been paid a living wage.  Wages are deliberately depressed for the majority in order to provide business for the banks, the credit card companies and legalized loan sharks like Wonga. If people were paid proper wages, they wouldn’t need benefits to help them survive in this cruel and often barbaric country. The Sun doesn’t understand this nor does it want to, because it colludes with the state in lying to the people.

But the ethnic make-up of the country doesn’t exercise the minds of all right-wing commentators, Andrew Lilico writing for Conservative Home (some people don’t have homes), focussed his ire on what he called the “housing shortage myth”. Divining from sets of graphs that accompanied the census results, he says rather unconvincingly,

Thus was born the notion that there was a “housing shortage” in London and the South East of England.  As house prices began to spike upwards in the early 2000s, that was widely attributed to the housing shortage.  It was claimed that house prices were rising because people were desperately out-bidding each other simply in order to have somewhere to live.  The government established the Barker Review of Housing Supply to investigate how housing supply could be increased, and the Communities Plan for increased housebuilding.

He closes with this,

Does any of this prove that UK planning policy is perfect?  Obviously not.  Ought the UK debate about housing to have been transformed by the 2001 Census data?  Surely.  Will everyone stop talking about a “housing shortage” now, having done so wrongly for about 15 years?  Surely not.  But one day the discussion will catch up with the facts.

Lies, damned lies and statistics. Lilico, like his Tory chums, is in denial about the housing crisis. There is a major housing shortage that was caused by Thatcher’s ruinous Right to Buy policy, which hasn’t been addressed by either the Tories or Labour, who seem wedded to the rather vague notion of “affordable housing”. The only homes being built are those which make a profit for developers. One thing to have come from the Census is that fewer people now hold a mortgage. This tells us that Thatcher’s idea of near-universal home-ownership has failed and catastrophically so. Will Lilico and his mates realize the game is up? Probably not. The government is actively encouraging people to buy their own homes – even if they can’t afford to do so. The words “sub prime” seem to have been entirely forgotten.

The 2011 Census was always going to get the right foaming at the mouth. Religious observance has been in decline for the better part of 30 years. There are more mixed race people in the country than there was when I was young.  I can remember being the only mixed race or, for that matter, brown-skinned kid at Monksdown Primary School in Norris Green, Liverpool in 1963/4. The name-calling was relentless and hurtful. I’m so glad that mixed race children don’t have to put up with what I had to deal with.

Countries do change over time and the right has been slow to understand the nature of human migration. What never gets talked about are the numbers of people who leave Britain every year to seek better lives for themselves and their families. Instead, we are treated to a never-ending stream of paranoid bigoted crap from the likes of Murray, West et al about how this country is being “contaminated” by immigration.

Britain is a multi-racial, multicultural society, get used to it.

UPDATE: 12/12/12 @ 1223

As predictable as clockwork, Fred Ed West has squeezed out a blog about the “evils” of immigration. He also tells us that he has written a book about the subject, which is due out in the New Year. Here’s an excerpt,

But you can have too much of a good thing, and liberalism is a fragile prize. The main cornerstones of liberalism, things such as the jury system and parliamentary rule, are themselves products of very mono-ethnic societies, namely England, Denmark and the Netherlands, where people felt a lot of trust for fellow citizens. The Left likes “diversity” because it hates racism, and because immigrants overwhelmingly vote for the Left, they assume it can only make the country more liberal. But what I suspect (and perhaps fear) is that this demographic experiment our leaders have embarked upon (without asking whether or not we wanted it) is going to make us less liberal. All the evidence, from social sciences and from history, tells us that that highly diverse societies tend to be less trusting, less free, more unequal and more corrupt. These are not the sorts of societies where people will willingly pay for each other’s housing when hard times fall.

That’s probably not what people in nicely diverse middle-class areas of London want to hear, because tolerance is so highly prized. But tolerance is not a faultless good; it can also be the flipside of apathy and selfishness. That’s why “celebrating diversity” is so easy to do.

My bold. What “evidence” is he referring to? It isn’t obvious. I suspect that when he talks about “social sciences” he’s referring to Francis Galton and others.


Filed under Media, Racism, Society & culture, Tory press

Housing associations are greedy money making machines.

Crown Estate tenants protest at the sale of their homes to Peabody

One the face of it, housing associations (HA’s) – also known as Registered Social Landlords or RSL’s –  seem to be doing a great job. They house people in need (but only if you’re on the council house waiting list in the first place) and they provide properties at affordable rents… allegedly. However the truth is the HA’s often immerse themselves in activities that are far removed from their ostensible remit. Some HA’s like A2 Dominion, Peabody and Notting Hill Housing Trust appear to be run for the purpose of making vast sums of money, while tenants are used as cash cows and forced to endure ever-increasing rents and declining services.  Many, if not all, HA’s have been seduced by the idea of growth, which, as all of us knows, is finite. Nothing can keep growing forever.

Many HA’s were founded with noble aims: the alleviation of poverty, providing housing for those with low incomes and so on. Since Thatcher’s disastrous Right to Buy (RTB) policy in the 1980s, the HA’s have been left to fill the yawning gap caused by the sale of housing stock, which was never replaced because councils were forbidden from using the capital receipts from RTB sales to build new properties for social rent.

But this was part of the Tory strategy to destroy left-wing politics in Britain for good for they believed that by encouraging people to buy their own homes, they would break the Labour Party and rule unopposed for millenia. That was the strategy, but the problem with this idea was that it relied on all new homeowners being able to keep up the mortgage payments. Many couldn’t.

By 1989, it was beginning to look as though the plan had failed as thousands of people lost their homes in the wake of Black Monday. But still more people applied for mortgages and when the sovereign debt crisis began over 5 years ago, sub prime mortgages were blamed, yet the current government seems to think that stimulating another property boom is the solution to the crisis.

By the 1990s, the HAs were beginning to adopt more market-led business models. This has invariably led to a conflict between their social functions and their commercial interests.

Housing Associations have long been seen as vehicles for increasing home ownership and they are being encouraged to promote shared equity schemes and to tie themselves closer to wider business interests by getting involved in unsubsidised development for profit.

Rather than operate as purely social landlords, HA’s have become increasingly involved in property development and land speculation. They have also been moving increasingly towards market rents, thereby contributing to the lack of affordable rented property in the capital.

The Peabody Trust was founded in 1862 by an Act of Parliament. The Trust was bequeathed a large sum of money for its day by American financier, George W. Peabody, for the alleviation of poverty in London. The notion of growth did not figure in the original intentions of The Trust, but like so many other charities,  it came to regard itself as a major player in the marketplace.

Since the late 1990s, Peabody has been increasingly involving itself in large-scale council estate stock transfers; snapping up swathes of housing in Islington and Hackney for a song. It has bought land and developed on it; the properties that have been built are, more often than not, available for market rent or shared ownership only. Last year, it received every Crown property in a mass transfer, much to the tenants’ dismay.

The Peabody Trust gained hundreds of new tenants when it purchased a number of housing estates from the Crown Estate Commissioners. Stock transfers often involve a change in tenant status given the differing legislative rules about which landlords can provide which types of tenancy. In this case, the issue was whether the former Crown Estate tenants were secure or assured tenants.

The High Court held that Peabody’s new tenants were assured tenants, like the vast majority of other tenants of registered providers of social housing.

This is pretty typical of HA’s: move swathes of tenants to a less secure form of tenancy and pretend that you’re doing them a massive favour, when all the while, you’re eroding their rights as tenants. Peabody did this a few years ago with its assured tenants: it tried to trick them into signing forms that agreed to change the terms of their tenancies. Many tenants refused to sign. In the case of the Crown Estates, the tenants had secure tenancy status and were downgraded to an inferior status once the transfer was complete.  The Assured tenancy was introduced by the Thatcher government as a means of further eroding the public rented sector. Before the introduction of these tenancies, tenants had their rents protected under the provisions  of the Rent Act (1977).

Last year, Peabody announced that it was launching a £200m capital bond after spending that amount on the Crown Properties stock transfer. It is interesting how HA’s like Peabody can play the bond markets but it can’t operate a decent maintenance service for its tenants. In the last 3 years, it has gone through as many as 3 maintenance contractors after closing down its in-house maintenance service to “save” money.

HA’s, contrary to what they tell us, are in the business of making money and if this means trampling on their tenants’ rights, then this is what they’ll do. These days, HA’s are more likely interested in offering homes for so-called “market rents” or shared-ownership than providing social housing for affordable rents. Yet, it is social rents that fund  their projects. HA’s, like the privatized utility companies, can go to a bank and borrow money against the guaranteed income from rents. Strangely enough, even though tenants who rent their homes are seen as cash cows, they  are still seen as “too needy” by the landlord, who would much prefer it if they were renting at market levels or tied to them as leaseholders.

Shared ownership is one way an HA can increase rents, since they aren’t protected by law. Some rents are increased by as much as 500%, which are often loaded with service charges. This article from The Evening Standard says,

Mr Howard paid £79,000 for his share of the £195,000 two-bedroom flat, which carried a monthly rent and service charge of £347 until it shot up to £433 in April.

The couple’s problems began shortly after they moved in. They included:

Rubbish not collected for five weeks because of poor access to the bin sheds.

A lift out of service for 11 days.

A broken front door which had no handle and remained unsecured for nearly two weeks.

Mr Howard said: “We could not do any repairs ourselves because we were mostly tenants. When we complained, Newlon were invariably rude and unhelpful and treated us as though we were the problem.”

Things became much worse when they asked about selling their share of the flat, thinking the trust would buy it.

“When we suggested this, Newlon refused point blank, claiming they had no money to do so,” said Mr Howard.

As long as they get your money, they’re not actually interested in what happens to the flat or, for that matter, the estate. Cyclical maintenance schemes are also costly. Tenants do not have to contribute towards the cost of these programmes but leaseholders are often saddled with bills that go into their thousands.

The other issue with shared-ownership is negative equity. From The Independent,

Negative equity, in which the money owed on the mortgage is more than the value of the property, has affected many owners who bought properties before the market took a nosedive in 2007.

This hasn’t just affected shared ownership, but typically had an impact on new-build properties. Shared-owners have also been left reeling from rising rents, mounting costs for repairs or maintenance to communal areas and inflexible contract terms in their agreements with housing associations, which run the schemes.

Shared-ownership also raises questions as to who owns the property. Let’s put it this way: if you live in such a property, the HA has more rights than you do. If you have paid off your mortgage, you are still required to pay rent, which means that you will not, nor will you ever, own the property outright. Indeed, the HA can still evict you if you fail to meet your rent payments.

The shared ownership idea was dreamt up by HA’s with the idea of raising vast sums of money. It has nothing at all to do with alleviating poverty or providing housing to those in need. HA’s develop partnerships with lending companies. In some cases, the lender is the HA.

Chief executives of HA’s tend to earn the kind of salaries that would make most bank managers green with envy. Peabody’s Steven Howlett, for example, earns in excess of £197,000 per annum (a 7% increase on last year’s salary). Others earn much more.  While chief execs are earning 6 figure incomes, they slash their staff’s pay. The Morning Star reports,

Greedy housing association bosses were caught with their snouts in the trough today when union Unite slammed their “nauseating” pay rises while their staff are expected to suffer wage cuts.

Unite lambasted One Housing chief executive Mick Sweeney, who has had a £31,000 rise in pay and bonuses taking his income to £176,000 a year.

Meanwhile hundreds of his staff face 35 per cent pay cuts.

Look Ahead chief executive Victoria Stark increased her own pay packet £19,200 to £168,300 not including pension contributions.

Inside Housing has produced a list of Chief Executives pay. Topping the list  of high earners is David Bennett of the Sanctuary Group who receives £287,000 per annum. Sanctuary, like many HA’s, is a registered charity. This means that they don’t pay tax on the money they make, so if you run an HA, then you’re onto a good thing.

To run an HA, you don’t need any qualifications nor do you have to have an unblemished criminal record. You can set up an HA by getting 5 more people and convincing the relevant authorities that you have the best interests of the community at heart. After that, you can print your own money.


Filed under Housing, Society & culture

Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore has always been regarded as the quintessential British eccentric. Often portrayed as a stereotypical boffin, perhaps reinforced by his monocle, he was the face of The Sky at Night. In recent years, other astronomers like Chris Lintott have been used to fill in those parts that would have been occupied by Moore, who was beginning to look less capable. Moore also appeared as himself in a number of programmes from Morecambe & Wise Christmas specials to GamesMaster on Channel 4.

But not many people know about Moore’s political activities and some choose to see past them.  Nostalgic for the Empire, he was chairman of the anti-immigration United Country Party (UCP) in the late 1970s. The party had close ties to The Freedom Association (he was a friend of the McWhirter brothers) and other right-wing pressure groups. The UCP could be seen, in some respects, as the forerunner of UKIP, which Moore later joined. The UCP was absorbed into Dennis Delderfield’s racist New Britain Party in 1980. Some former members of New Britain joined UKIP.

Nowhere Towers will not be mourning the passing of Patrick Moore. For us, he was not some charming old star-gazing duffer who played a xylophone but a nasty old reactionary who held far-right views.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th century, History, History & Memory, Media, Political parties, Television, UKIP